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Coastal, Canal, and River Cruises
in Britain

Snipe and Taurus narrowboats

ABOVE: Passengers on the Canal Voyagers narrowboat pair Snipe and Taurus chat in a lock. INSET BELOW: The Majestic Line cruises to Argyll and the Inner Hebrides, using a pair of restored wooden fishing vessels.

Majestic Cruises GLASGOWCoastal fishermen, narrowboat captains, and bargees may not be as important to Britain's commerce as they were a century or two ago, but their spiritual descendants are still plying the UK's coastline and inland waterways.

Today, however, fish are more likely to be served to onboard guests than pulled from the sea, and freight has been largely replaced by human cargo--or, more specifically, by travelers who are looking for a more intimate cruising experience than they'd find on a 4,000-passenger Behemoth of the Seas or even a 400-passenger MS Croesus.

The British Isles offer several types of small-ship (or, in some cases, smallish-boat) cruising:

  • Coastal cruises on vessels that carry 12 to 50 guests, which typically explore tiny ports along the coasts and islands of Scotland and England.
  • Narrowboat cruises on canal boats with a beam of seven feet or less that travel singly or in pairs, carrying fewer than a dozen passengers in what might be termed "compact luxury."
  • Barge cruises on converted Dutch-style coal, grain, or freight barges that normally carry anywhere from eight to 12 passengers. These barges are considerably larger than narrowboats, so you're more likely to find them on the Thames or the Caledonian Canal than in the narrow rural and industrial canals that date back to the late 18th and early 19th Centuries.

Note: In this article, we're focusing on coastal, narrowboat, and barge cruises with professional captains and crews, and not on self-drive boats that can be hired. If you're interested in skippering a small boat, see our page of links for Canal Boat Rentals.

Next page: Coastal cruises

About the author:

Durant Imboden photo.Durant Imboden is a professional travel writer, book author, and editor who focuses on Europe.

After 4-1/2 years of covering European travel for, Durant and Cheryl Imboden co-founded Europe for Visitors  (including Europe for Cruisers) in 2001. The site has earned "Best of the Web" honors from Forbes and The Washington Post.

For more information, see About Europe for Visitors, press clippings, and reader testimonials.

Top photo copyright © Neil Thomsett.
Inset photo copyright © The Majestic Line.